On Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, we see the world through the eyes of Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a woman raised by musical theater, a self-centered single mom, and an abandonment complex. But the people who orbit Rebecca are just as warped by their circumstances as she is. In Season 2, Nathaniel Plimpton, played by Scott Michael Foster, joined Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as the anxious lawyer's new boss. For as much as they clashed early on, Nathaniel and Rebecca also developed some chemistry that made Greg's departure a little more bearable. Whether they're good for each other or not, Rebecca and her alpha-male boss are at two opposite ends of the same spectrum, and slowly moving to meet in the middle. The former lets her emotions rule every decision she makes, while Nathaniel tries (unsuccessfully) to ignore his completely.
Speaking to Bustle over the phone in late October, Foster reflects on what happens when "someone who is not very warm and cuddly" meets someone who's "you know, a bundle of glitter."
"The dynamic there is awesome to watch because [Nathaniel's] really cold and calculated, at least at first, and then this little tornado comes in and shakes up his life," the actor says.
"I mean, look at our political climate right now. That is a lot of people who are really repressing emotions."
It didn't take long for Rebecca to get under Nathaniel's skin, probably because he was already straining to get out of it. When he showed up in West Covina in Season 2, Nathaniel was under the thumb of his dad and doing his best to be the stoic, heartless, legal shark that the elder Plimpton raised his boy to be. Nathaniel "couldn’t be more white, Aryan, WASP-y guy," Foster explains. "He really is a caricature of himself."
Part of the beauty of the CW series is that, though Rebecca is flawed and self-destructive, her commitment to her own happiness has actually had a positive effect on other people. Because of her, Foster says, "[Nathaniel] starts to crack. That manly facade starts to fade away a little bit because he’s experiencing emotions, which he’s never done before... He starts to realize that doing good things for people and helping people out feels sort of good."
The show has had its fun lampooning at toxic masculinity through his character. Remember the episode where a flu-stricken Nathaniel kept getting sicker because "real men" don't take naps? Or his treadmill self-punishment for succumbing to office junk food? It's taken Nathaniel way too long to realize that his feelings for Rebecca weren't merely physical, in part because his initial response to them is to try to regain the upper hand. Because of this outdated concept of masculinity, Nathaniel keeps getting in his own way, and Foster sees the negative effects of this kind of mindset out in the real world, too.
"I mean, look at our political climate right now," he laughs. "That is a lot of people who are really repressing emotions."
The actor hints that Nathaniel will be "forced to confront his parents a little bit about his upbringing," and that Rebecca will also continue to provoke his evolution. Both relationships have set Nathaniel up for humiliation before, but that's what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does so well. The series likes to put its characters through guerrilla therapy — taking them to their most awkward places and deepest depths in order to have them face themselves, and hopefully make it back out the other side. As Nathaniel is just coming to terms — at the zoo, of all places — with wanting more than just transactional sex with Rebecca, Rebecca is going to be strong-armed into facing her past, i.e. the Robert debacle and her institutionalization. Both of them need more than a heartwarming sitcom moment to really be whole and well, and Foster says he's "super proud" to be on a show that's "raising awareness and de-stigmatizing mental illness."
But because co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna are doing those things within a rom-com-like structure, it's really tough not to root for Rebecca's romantic happiness, whether that's with Nathaniel or anyone else. It seems very significant that Nathaniel and Rebecca seem have polar opposite issues, but is that just a reading encouraged by hundreds of pat happy endings?
"The whole idea of will-they-or-won’t-they has been done over and over again," Foster said. "At the end of the series, it’s always like, 'Then they finally got together, got married, and lived happily ever after.' That idea is so silly that it just ends there, because it doesn’t end there. There’s a whole slew of things that happen after."
That's something that Rebecca realized when she finally "had" Josh Chan. It didn't make any of her other problems go away; it didn't heal her like she thought it would. And Nathaniel's got some work of his own to do, too. Just a few episodes ago, he was willing to euthanize Josh's Lolo to satisfy Rebecca. This is not a well-adjusted person either.
"I think what the point is is that [Rebecca] doesn’t have to be with any of these people to be happy or mentally healthy," Foster says.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend wants you to know that whether you're a filter-less hot mess or a power-hungry capitalist, nobody can complete you but you.